The Marcellus Shale formation that extends across eight U.S. states has a new estimate out from the US Geological Survey (USGS). The new estimate of the reserve was increased from 42 times to 72 times from the previous assessment done in 2002. Nine years will change a perspective.
Marcellus Shale within the Appalachian Basin. Click image for the largest view.
Before looking into this, keep in mind we’re looking through the work of the USGS, a department of the federal government. As others have noted elsewhere the reliability of these kinds of things isn’t very high, rather they serve as pretty good guides over time on the resource availability by quantity. What’s to be seen in the report is there’s lots more geology data now, much more production experience, and a considerable extension of the infrastructure to deliver natural gas from the gas fields to consumers.
The latest USGS assessment is an estimate of continuous gas and natural gas liquid accumulations in the Middle Devonian Marcellus Shale of the Appalachian Basin. The estimate of undiscovered natural gas ranges from 43.0 trillion cubic feet, a 95% probability to 144.1 TCF, 5 percent probability. The estimate of natural gas liquids such as propane or liquid petroleum gas, ranges from 1.6 billion barrels at 95% probability to 6.2 billion barrels at 5 percent probability.
The oil industry can be said to have been born in the Eastern U.S. Drake’s famous well was drilled in western Pennsylvania and since the 1930s almost every well drilled through the Marcellus shale found noticeable quantities of natural gas. By 2004 engineers reflecting on the Marcellus shale concluded the formation was a potential reservoir rock, instead of just a regional source rock, meaning that the gas could be produced from it instead of just being a source for the gas.
Technological improvements, most notably horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing of the shale rocks resulted in commercially viable gas production and the rapid development of a major, new continuous natural gas and natural gas liquids boom in the Appalachian Basin, the oldest producing petroleum province in the U.S.
Keep in mind, there’s no conventional oil type petroleum resources assessed in the Marcellus Shale of the Appalachian Basin.
The USGS bases its new update in undiscovered, technically recoverable resource due to new geologic information and engineering data, with significant technological developments in producing unconventional resources in the last decade.
The USGS qualifies the assessed estimates for technically recoverable oil and gas resources meaning those quantities of oil and gas producible using currently available technology and industry practices. No adjustment or projection is included regarding economic or accessibility considerations. So the estimates include resources beneath both onshore and offshore areas (such as under Lake Erie) and beneath areas where accessibility may be limited by policy and regulations imposed by land managers and regulatory agencies. That’s a fair warning to consumers and industry that they’re on their own for keeping reserves available in the face of opposition from both those well justified and those frivolous and emotionally driven.
The USGS is the only provider of publicly available estimates of undiscovered technically recoverable oil and gas resources of onshore lands and offshore state waters. In this assessment the USGS worked with the Pennsylvania Geological Survey, the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey, the Ohio Geological Survey, and representatives from the oil and gas industry and academia to develop an improved geologic understanding of the Marcellus Shale. The USGS Marcellus Shale assessment was undertaken as part of a nationwide project assessing domestic petroleum basins using standardized methodology and protocol. Applied nationwide the new technique should firm up realistic expectations.
The other side is those states; Kentucky, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia are going to see a new economic foundation built into their economies – a very welcome event – if they can keep political control and the exploration and development going.
There will be a lot of jobs, wealth and investment made in these states – if they can keep the anti energy lobbies from wrecking their future. Keep it going and the next assessment may very likely increase the reserve estimate again.